Saturday, 5 September 2009
Entropy, Chaos and getting things done
This week, I have been most vexed . On the surface of my frustration is the simple fact that, as the saying goes, I could not organise a piss-up in a brewery. This itself is a sufficiently demoralising self-admission, but underlying it, and based upon the same chaotic principle that makes this true, is a deeper question: Why are some people organised and others messy in their thinking and doing?
I include a picture of the workbench in my garage, partly because it is a significant example of the spaces in which I live my life, but mostly because that most significant of indicators, my desk, is probably covered in items which should not, for commercial reasons, be displayed in a public place. This may or may not be so, and I assure you my desk is every bit as slovenly as my workbench (though I have some help in messing up the latter). Of course, like the Ministry of Defence or many other public bodies charged with the safe keeping of information, I am certain at some point to leave my scribbled notebook on a train or an aeroplane. (Luckily, my writing is so bad that this poses no risk of the escape of embarrassing or sensitive information).
But I digress, as so often, and perhaps this is the nub of the problem. It goes a bit like this:
“Hmm.. I must pay the credit card bill. I wonder where it is? Oh yes, pinned to the fridge with a magnet. Right! Go get it! I wonder what’s in the fridge? Oh! we are out of milk, I must go and get some. Yes. Ok, where is my wallet? Oh, I haven’t lost it again, have I maybe its in the car. I will look. Gosh! The boot is full of all those clothes from the weekend. I was after that shirt. I must take that in and..”
And so it goes. I am sure this chain of unfinished events is not uncommon to many of you.
So how does this lead to a cluttered desk? Well, its about information. Each new piece of information coming to light in the environment is its own “branching off point”. This could be a phone call distracting from a task, or just a fly buzzing in the window. For instance: I started writing this and had a wonderful idea for a beautifully articulated point, even down to the vocabulary and the rhythm of the words. But at that point I chose to upload the photo. And that took ages. And in the meantime, the words and in fact the whole idea had evaporated. It is doubtful it will reappear.
Consequently, this type of “way of being” means that once set on a task at work, for instance, there is no guarantee that the task, regardless of how well defined and clear the steps are, will get finished accurately or even at all. Often, something else, not necessarily more interesting, will distract attention and the original thread is lost. Upon resuming it, the details of where and what are lost and this is where the wrong file gets added to a document, my phone gets put in the fridge or the milk gets put back in the microwave.
At school, I remember my writing, a mess of scribbles, crossings out, smudges. I would look upon those beautifully written pieces of work by the rest of the class: neat tidy writing, legible, well-formed and feel that whatever the expectation of the teacher, I would always disappoint with my presentation. But I just kept getting things wrong!! No matter how hard i tried, my mind would wander and the spider-scrawl would diverge from the lines and the wrong words would have interjected themselves in otherwise sensible sentences. I just couldn’t get it right! And it remains thus.
In some ways, this small collection of words is an apology to all those people who suffer frustration, delays and inconvenience as a result of my inability to concentrate. I am not doing it on purpose: I really cant help it. The spreadsheets with the mixed up product numbers, the emails with the wrong attachments, over and over again despite my best attempts at accuracy and coherence, these are symptoms of the chaos within.
And I thank those of you who help me. With pinpoint accuracy, your poke your attention right at where the problem is and untangle the whole sorry mess into order. How do you do that? How are you so structured that you can take a series of events and arrange them into the right way for things to happen efficiently? To me, in my poor sorry head, there is just a cloud of happenings that, like a loony tunes brawl, exists as a cloud of dust, disorder and confusion with the odd limb appearing simultaneously at random intervals.
I spend my life in confusion. It is a relatively happy confusion and much is thrown spuriously into my consciousness which interests me and cascades into other trains of thought, many that you will find written in various places, the locations of which, of course, i have mostly forgotten.
But please bear with me. I do try. I know that I will never be organised, that my work will be messy and my life a cheerful mash of eclectic items and activities. But, I hope there is some consolation in this for those who deal with such pathologically disordered thinkers as myself, who, no matter how hard they try just cannot be organised. I hope we offer some kind of unpredictability that whilst being infuriating, also has some endearingly bonkers quality.
And if not. Sorry for all the mess.